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Thousands of people in Africa get sight-saving surgery

June 2021
two surgeons work on a patient.

In three years, Sightsavers’ Accelerate programme has successfully supported governments in Africa to provide eye surgery for 37,000 people.

Through huge efforts in international collaboration, Accelerate is helping governments across 12 countries, including Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria, to cure cases of advanced trachoma, also known as trichiasis. The disease causes the eyelids to turn inwards and the eyelashes to painfully scrape on the eye. If it isn’t treated, it can eventually cause blindness.

Many people at risk of trichiasis live in rural or poor areas with limited access to healthcare. It affects their quality of life and chances of education and work. Even though it is preventable, trachoma still affects more than 136 million people globally.

Thanks to our strong partnerships, we are well-equipped to support governments to tackle and even eliminate trachoma. In fact, such significant progress has been made that it is possible that trachoma will be eliminated in our lifetime. Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated the number of people needing trichiasis surgery had fallen by almost 75 per cent over the previous 20 years.

But as numbers reduce, the job gets even harder. It isn’t always straightforward to reach people at risk, who tend to live in remote locations. And it’s hard to encourage people to have surgery, as they may have fears or misconceptions about doctors and hospitals. Setting up temporary surgery camps can also be challenging in places that lack appropriate facilities. Fighting trachoma requires a huge number of people to work together, so global support is more important now than ever.

Accelerate is an ambitious project speeding up progress towards the elimination of trachoma. It is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, The ELMA Foundation and Virgin Unite.

Meet some of the people who make it possible

A man marks outside of a house to confirm trachoma surgery.

Lurwanu Umar, case finder

Lurwanu visits Katoge in Katsina, northern Nigeria, to find people affected by trichiasis and offer them surgery. “First I tell them about the dangers of the condition. We tell them that if the eyelashes continue touching their eyes it will damage their eyes. And if their eyes get damaged, it cannot be fixed. I tell them that it is important they go for the surgery.”

A woman laughing while she prepare food outside

Zuwaira Sale, trichiasis patient

Zuwaira Sale is one of the 37,000 people who have undergone surgery thanks to Accelerate. “I feel very fine after the surgery, I can see. A few days after the surgery my condition improved, because I was able to see light and things clearly. My family and children were so happy and grateful!”

A man stands for a portrait.

Dahiru Abdulkadir, surgeon

Surgeon Dahiru Abdulkadir is already thinking beyond the programme, and the positive mark that extensive training has left on the region: “Nowadays it’s very rare to find a health centre – no matter how remote it is – where the people working there have no idea of what trachoma is. They all have been trained. Even when the programme is over, people with trachoma can visit community hospitals and from there they will be referred to the general hospital, where there are trained TT [trichiasis] surgeons who are able to carry out the procedure there.”

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